The best movie ever is Remember the Titans. This is an indisputable fact and I will not waste another millimeter of column space discussing it. There is a great scene in the movie where coach Herman Boone (played by the one and only Denzel Washington) is meeting his team for the first time. Coach Boone asks his running back why he is smiling. The player responds, “Because football is fun.” Boone then intimidates the player to the point that he changes his mind, and says football is “Zero fun, sir.”
That’s sort of how I’ve felt about the USC football team, especially the last two years. Now, I don’t think former coach Lane Kiffin (that’s still strange to say) intimidated his players — quite the opposite, in fact. But I do believe he created a culture where football was indeed “zero fun.” Or at least close to it.
When Athletic Director Pat Haden introduced Ed Orgeron as the interim head coach on Sunday, the two men used the word “fun” at least six times (by my count) in their 20-or-so minutes at the podium. I doubt I would need two hands to count how many times I heard Kiffin say “fun” in almost four years here.
“This is a game of fun and joy,” Haden said Sunday. “And one of the things we’re looking for is for Ed [Orgeron] to bring that fun and joy back into the game of college football.”
Haden’s choice of Orgeron as interim head coach was calculated, obviously, but calculated in part specifically for this purpose. He is, in many ways, the polar opposite of Kiffin.
Orgeron is dynamic and engaging with the media. Kiffin was reserved and often appeared bored. Orgeron yells, and yells a lot. When his players mess up, they get quite the earful. Kiffin was rarely animated with anyone besides referees. Someone joked that Orgeron wouldn’t even need to re-open practices to the media because we would be able to hear him from outside of the fence well enough. The media often had to ask Kiffin to speak up, because you still couldn’t hear him even when the microphone was inches from his face.
“I’m gonna have some energy and excitement,” Orgeron said when asked about his sideline demeanor. “High-fiving guys, having fun. All the things I love to do.”
This is, of course, in stark contrast to Kiffin, who generally stood 20 yards upfield from the action, head buried in his laminated playsheet. Of course, as the offensive playcaller this is only natural: it’s a better view of the game. But Kiffin was the head coach too, and you just never got that feeling during games. It was like sometimes he forgot that there was an actual competition taking place right in front of him because he was too engrossed in his playbook to notice.
Much fun has been made about Kiffin’s official USC bio, which claims that he was “known for his high football IQ, as well as for being a master playcaller,” given USC’s recent offensive ineptitude. But I don’t actually think that claim is false. Kiffin does have a tremendous coaching mind, and I believe he would still make a fairly good offensive coordinator. But the fact is, some people just aren’t cut out to be head coaches.
When you have a moment, look up “Pete Carroll USC practice,” or something like that, on YouTube. What do you see? Will Ferrell, April Fools jokes, singing — hell, he’s literally playing the piano in one of them. If you really want to see something, check out “USC Trojans Slip’N Slide at practice” on YouTube. That’s an offensive and a defensive assistant coach having a Slip’N Slide competition to settle that day’s winner of practice.
I understand that Uncle Pete was an anomaly, and I’m not saying that Kiffin should have learned to play the piano. But I think the most excited I’ve ever seen a USC player at a Lane Kiffin practice was former offensive lineman Matt Kalil running around after a practice and shouting about the “ice cream and cookies” the offense had just earned in the hotel that night. And that was one time. USC football practices under Kiffin were indescribably lifeless.
And that translated to the games. Think of the Trojan sideline as things began to unravel in the third quarter at Arizona State last Saturday. There was no sense of fight or drive — just a sort of resignation. And I don’t think I even need to talk about the Sun Bowl.
It’s safe to say that the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will have a fresh feeling to it in a week when USC hosts Arizona. That goes for both fans and players.
“I want our guys to believe and have a little fun,” Orgeron said in his introductory press conference. “Have some fun for these next eight games and let the chips fall where they may.”
For those in the Coliseum, it just might be fun to be at a USC football game again. And I’m not only talking about the fans.
“Any Given Saturday” runs on Thursdays, ironically. To explain to Nick how this makes no sense, or comment on this column, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.